Helen Conkling

Dear Irving,

Congratulations on your eightieth birthday.  I am sure you will have a happy day and many years ahead of writing more poetry—it is the blood of life! 

I have all your books and read from them often, remembering your classes—the laughs we had, the readings from Yeats and your splendid instruction.  They were inspiring classes.  You were my first poetry teacher and what you taught me remains in my head as the following persona poem proves.  I keep it taped to my wall so I will remember your emphasis on putting in more details and remembering the things of this world.

                        Again, Happy Birthday!  And all best always,


                        Helen Conkling


The Poetry-Writing Teacher

“Don’t start a poem with the words

Bring Paradise to bear.

Then what do you have to look forward to?

No, prolong the beginning.  Make the next event wait.

Put in more details.

The words Ever after don’t fit.

That type of thing never moves me much.

Hyperbolic Eternity is what I call it

and what you can always do

is break it into days, qualities, pressures, events.

So why get so worked up?

It’s often best to keep eternity in its place.

Quivering out of a still sky is not a good line.

Neither is the one about minutes.

As for freezing grandeur, freezing manure would be better.

Quivering out of a still sky?  My God!”